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The Future of News

Citizen Journalists What's Their Role? News/Business. (2010) New York University professor Jay Rosen and columnist Clarence Page discuss citizen journalists. (CC) (Stereo)

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Us 7, Chicago 5, Ha Ha Ha 3, U.s. 2, New York 2, America 2, Newseum 2, United States 2, Iran 2, Washington D.c. 2, Huffington 2, Jay Rosen 2, Frank Sesno 2, China 1, Nellie Bly 1, Chicago Tribune 1, Obsessive 1, Multitudinous 1, Sonya 1, Ohio University 1,
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  PBS    The Future of News    Citizen Journalists What's Their Role?  News/Business.   
   (2010) New York University professor Jay Rosen and columnist...  

    September 10, 2010
    9:30 - 10:00pm PDT  

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>> this program is brought to you by a grant from the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide. >> in the future, when a big story happens, will a citizen journalist help break the news? that happened at the virginia tech massacre and the huge earthquake in china. but it's not just breaking news. there are 233 million internet users in the united states according to nielsen research, and the number is growing every day. easy-to-use software is helping citizen journalists tell their stories, and professionals are using citizen sources more and more. >> we treat them as reliable sources of information, but, like we would with the police source, the courthouse source, and the capitol hill source, we verify that. >> ...these images literally
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streaming into us here at cnn. >> as traditional news media grapple with sinking budgets and shrinking newsrooms, can citizen journalism help fill the void? what role should citizen journalists play? that's our topic today on "the future of news." >> a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the united states of america. >> more eyes, more ears, more voices out there, and a more sophisticated audience as well, because it's the audience that's gonna keep us all honest. >> when citizen journalists want to be trusted, they have to do certain things to earn that trust. >> from the newseum in washington d.c., this is "the future of news." and welcome to the knight studio and our conversation about media and news in the digital age. i'm frank sesno. our guests today are both sharp-eyed observers of the world of journalism. jay rosen is a professor, press critic, and leading proponent of new media. clarence page is a
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pulitzer-prize-winning writer and longtime columnist for the "chicago tribune." welcome to you both. >> thank you. >> we take this term "citizen journalist," and we dance it out, and we stomp on it, and we criticize it, and we celebrate it. what exactly is a citizen journalist, jay? >> well, it starts with the people formerly known as the audience. >> the people formerly known as the audience? >> yes, and when the people formerly known athe audience use the tools that they now have to inform one another, that's citizen journalism. >> is that all it is, clarence? >> i prefer the term "non-traditional journalist" because there's us old-school media types, you know, that you learned about in school--newspapers, magazines, et cetera. but non-traditional journalists now because technology is changing so fast and people are finding new ways of covering news and making news and commenting on it. >> you consider yourself a professional journalist, right? >> i'm both, really, now, because, you know, old-school media--we all got a blog now. ha ha ha! >> but is jay right that all it
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is is a citizen with the means of production and that's the revolution, as you've written, and that makes them a citizen journalist? >> well, basically, yeah, and i've been in seminar after seminar on what is a journalist? so let's not get into that on this, or we'll be hereor a week. but iyou want to just talk about--just look at the examples recently. the kid who shot the kid being beat to death in chicago on the street--that generated a national debate, moved the white house and all. that in its own way was journalism, just putting that raw footage out on the web. the kids who disguised themselves as a pimp and a prostitute and generated the whole--did what congressional committees couldn't do, for better or worse, which was get funding to arn cut offthat's journalism, or it's at least acting on journalism. it's making us in the old-school media move whether we want to or not. so... >> jay, let me push back on this because plenty do. is it merely
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being out on the street with a cell phone and taking a picture that makes you a journalist? is it merely being present when an explosion takes place and being able to record the sound that makes you a journalist? is there no distinction between being an eyewitness and being a citizen journalist? >> wl, i think what we have to cognize ishat there e people doing journalism whose day job is journalism, and there are people doing journalism who have some other day job, and the role of the witness in recording what happened and telling other people, "here's what went on," is journalistic. the authority of the journalist starts when you are able to say, "i was there. you weren't, frank. let me tell you about it." >> but i draw the distinction between the eyewitness and the journalist because the journalist--the professional journalist in the old days, when there was a newspaper or a television station or a microphone, would go up to you. you'd be at the fireand i'd say, "tell me what you saw." >> mm-hmm. >> and you would play that role. now the difference is that you
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can play that role directly to the wider public or as many people as you can get to. but does it make you a journalist, or does that merely make you an eyewitness with a megaphone? >> i don't know how important that distinction is. from the point of view of the news user, what we want is people who can tell us what's going on who know what they're talking about. >> do you think the distinction makes a difference? >> journalist is a mediator, really. you mediate between the event--the news--and the audience, in many ways. you make the news what news is, whatever that is. so i'm trying to be loose here because every time i come down with some kind of flat rule or definition, somebody breaks the rule the next day, so...but that's ok. that's part of what the first amendment's all about. it is the open marketplace. >> and the shield law. >> and shield laws, too, whatever they may be, because that, too, is changing. >> but what is the distinction between free speech and providing that information and responsible journalism, which all news organizations like to ponder and write ethics codes about and provide rules and guidelines--you have rul and
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guidelines, don't u, clarence? >> multitudinous, and some of them which i'm not that convinced of their value. undercover journalism--i mentioned that acorn case. you know, the first pulitzer i was involved in was a team effort. i worked undercover as a election judge in 1972 in chicago. you may think that's like shooting fish in a barrel, looking for vote fraud in chicago, but i assure you, we have clean elections in chicago because of us. we did it by going undercover there and reporting from the inside out. we did more than a lot of political science classes can do. but a few years later, when the hica sun times" opened up a bar and got some great inside stuff on corruption and payoffs, the pulitzer committee rejected them, saying, "journalists should not misrepresent themselves." so the grand tradition of nellie bly, et cetera-- >> ...and all that that went on and on, right? >> well, you can go on and on with that debate, but the point is that debate was shattered by those two kids with the cameras who went to acorn and then put that on the web directly. you
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know, forget the "chicago tribune," everybody else. now we have to follow that story... >> so then, jay, what happens to these ethics classes that we teach and we go to and we hear about in journalism schools and elsewhere that says, "you're not supposed to misrepresent yourself," and these sort of rigid rules that professional journalists follow that citizen journalists, as clarence just said, are not following? >> well, i don't think we have to wipe out the differences between professional journalists and other people who are trying to tell us what's going on. there are important differences. but it would be a mistake to say that professional journalists are the ones who have ethics and citizen journalists do not. when citizen journalists want to be trusted, they have to do certain things to earn thatrust. >> like what? >> well, they have to tell people who they are, they have to correct when they are wrong, they have to engage with the people who talk to them on their blog, they have to be reliable. if you're a blogger and you carve out a niche, i
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expect you to be on top of that niche, and so there's things that they do that may be different from how professionals work, but over time, they earn trust. >> and as with professional journalists, there are all kinds of citizen journalists, all gradations--good, bad, and otherwise--and so people may have a stereotype of citizen journalists, the image of some lone, obsessive, pajama-clad blogger going at it in the basement all day and all night. but blogging is just one of many tools. sonya gavankar is gonna show us now a few ways that people are using these citizen journalism tools. sonya? >> frank, anyone can be a publisher these days, and many communities are starting their own citizen journalism sites. i have one example for you here, and it's a new voices winner. it's the "appalachian independent" in frostburg, maryland. they call it "the dialogue of democracy." they are very clear about what their mission is. they are citizen journalists giving a voice to a diverse appalachian community. and one thing that i really like are their stories of humanity focusing on highlighting hope
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and the human spirit and democracy in action. but what if you want to post something outside of a local community paper? well, go to allvoices.com. they are the first open media site where anyone can report from anywhere. you can upload video, news, pictures right from your computer or from your phone. this is a site that is a combination of contributor, reporter, and mainstream news, but nothing that comes into the site is ever censored. so how do you know what is credible and what isn't? well the allvoices site helps you with a credibility ranking. that goes from not so credible because there isn't enough data to decide what is credible at this time to very credible, meaning that they have a very high reputation within the community. this is the way of the web, using the internet information and the user community to decide. frank? >> sonya, thanks. what about standards and quality and accountability when it's many to many? how does that change, and what are the implications for that? >> well, in an open system like
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allvoices and others where anyone can sign up and participate, you have an explosion of participation, and initially, you don't know what to trust. and so the systems that work well have evolved ways of dealing with this. one of them is openness plus community standards, meaning here are the things that are allowed in this community, and here are the things that are not. another is flagging, where participants sa "hey, that violates the standards," and they help police it. and a third is what we just heard about, reputation systems, where people who are contributors consistently over time can earn a kind of ranking so that we know that this isn't a fly-by-night person, they have a reputation, they are a consistent contributor. >> the trouble to me as someone in the political punditry business is how the democratization of all voices over the web has polluted the debate with rumors, paranoia, unsubstantiated facts, sloppy
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reporting that the audience has a hard time telling the difference, and it also has actually widened political polarization in many ways in our society instead of improving the conversation. >> you know, it's worth pointing out, too, that some very big stories have been broken with citizen journalists or aided in a very substantial way. i'm thinking of the very substantial story broken by talking points memo about the firing of u.s. attorneys by former attorney general alberto gonzales that was aided substantially by posting the documents and then listening to people from all over the country. how much is that happening? >> well, it was more than just postg the documents. that site, talking points memo, starts its day with its inbox, meaning people are constantly sending stuff to the site. and in that particular story, the firing of the u.s. attorneys, it was a national story, it was a very important story, but it also unfolded locally in all the places where these attorneys worked. >> right, right. >> and so josh marshall sitting in new york, or his reporters in washington, they don't know
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about the local story in phoenix and st. louis. so the readers and the users of that site kind of helped fill them in immediately on what had happened at that level. so he has learned how to take this in-flow from the users, filter it at his headquarters, and use it to keep driving the story by reporting new stuff, by aggregating stuff from around the web, by listening to what users have to say, and it's become kind of a new way of generating a constituency for a story over a long period of time. the news media tends to report on things, then drop them, and pick them up again. his idea was, "let's stick with this and develop, like, a miniature public for this story, and the public will help us report it." >> how are news organizations working with all this citizen content and opinion? well, david kurtz of talking points memo says what is different now is the relationship with the reader or the viewer, that it's got to be a conversation, he says.
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>> i know that anytime there's something new that there's resistance to it from people who have done things the other way before, and i'm curious from the panel whether the resistance that you come across in trying to adapt these new techniques is focused primarily within the editor community or reporters themselves, or does it stretch across the organization? >> clarence, where is the resistance? >> i'm sorry, the resistance to? >> the resistance to this relationship. >> oh, old folks like me. ha ha ha! young people just embrace this so fast, you know. and i think it reminds me of the first time that we rolled a tribune company television set into the newsroom. it was like, "oh, what is that thing doing here?" but then when reporters found out how much better they got their phone calls returned because they had been on tv, our all-news cable channel, then they loved it. same thing when they brought the first computers in, and i keep a couple of old typewriters in my office just for old times' sake, but-- >> jay, where do you think the resistance is to that question?
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>> one interesting source i found is i think that, for example, beat reporters ought to be operating with a network of 1,000 people helping them with their beat, and in trying to get reporters to see the virtues of that approach, one of the lines of resistance has been that if i share what i'm working on with people, my stories will get stolen, and this has proved to be a major stumbling block. how can you be open with readers and users if you're worried about your competition stealing your story? so that's been one line of resistance, and then, as clarence said, some of it is just generational, just people who had been around who mastered journalism when it was done on a other platform. they just can't get with any of these tools. >> i'll give you another example, too, by the way. i asked for permission to writ for thhuffington post, as so of my colleagues on other publications do, and it went up the bureaucracy and back, and
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they said, "well, huffington post competes with our website, so we shouldn't do that." >> so say you want to be a citizen journalist. say you want to contribute to this process. what does it mean? how do you do that? where can you find codes of conduct or the tools and the best practices? sonya's back with a look at some things that are out there for you. sonya? >> frank, let's say you're already tech-savvy and now you want to be a citizen journalist. where do you go to learn more about the journalism side of the equation? the knight citizen news network is a great place that's part of the j-lab at american university. they have all the tips of the trade, and clicking on their learning modules will bring you all of the important information and the principles of citizen journalism, like accuracy and fact checking, thoroughness, fairness, transparency, independence, and interviews with so many experts in the field. you can learn from them in their videos that they have posted up here--experts like jay rosen, who explains trust and independence online in this quick, little video. kcnn is full of information that you need to know. it's journalism school for the citizen
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journalist. frank? >> what do you tell a citizen journalist? what's your bottom line? >> what i tell them is find a community that you can report to, because it is your connection to that community that's gonna keep you honest. i think this is what's not well understood by professional journalists when they look at citizen journalists. they think of sort of these amateurs going out and trying to do what they do. it really arises out of a community of people, which could be geographic or otherwise, that you are a part of and you wish to inform. and that's, i think, the beginning of citizen journalism. that's why i say in my definition the people formerly known as the audience is people informing one another, not trying to muscle in on what professional journalists do. >> so, clarence, we may all be dinosaurs marching through the zoo here... >> heh heh! >> but in the dinosaur zoo, there's all this focus on responsible reporting, or at least there has been, and
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there's all this raging debate about are you biased, are news organizations biased, right? >> for one thing, we put too much stake in objectivity. know a lot of people, if you ask them on the street, they would think objectivity was in the first amendment. it is not. objectivity came along as a marketing scheme 100 years ago in the heyday of yellow journalism. they say, you know, "buy the new york sun. we're the objective newspaper," while they have the yellow kid inside. but the fact is that the european press has always been more partisan than ours because they haven't had that kind of allegiance to it. so the notion that you go out as a subjective reporter or that you have a subjective webpage--a fox ne page versus huffington post page or drudge report, whatever--this is not new. only the technology is new, and we americans are kind of getting used to this idea now. >> well, i'd like to bring the audience into this conversation now since this is about citizen journalism. so hello. go ahead with your question. >> hi. how do you think new
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media is affecting the political process? >> go ahead, clarence. >> well, it's--well, it's democratizing. it's giving voices to everybody, and whether you've got a harvard degree you're on welfare, you can get on the web. barack obama rendered campaign finance laws obsolete by forgoing public financing, just going strictly on the web and calling for small donors. he made so much money from small donors that the big donors came in giving him money, and he made much more money than he could under the old government-funded system. and i see journalism going that same kind of way, enabling independent voices, like some we've mentioned, to put together some very sophiscad weites with staffs and doing what newspapers and newsmagazines traditionally did, only they're doing it with the internet. so the only thing that's changed is the technology... >> jay, let me put the question to you this way, that in--and
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it's the observation of many that what's old may be new again and that we may be going back to sort of the pamphleteer style of journalism in this country; that, armed with this technology, armed with these capabilities, armed with the democratizing capacity to participate, that you have all these camps, and people will line up behind tir camps in increasing ways. true? >> well, there's something to that. the high points for political participation in america were periods of intense partisanship, and i think we grew into an era in this country where it was rather hard to participate. in the political system, you needed a lot of money. in the media system, you needed to be a broadcaster. >> or scale the ivory tower. >> yeah. and now i think what's happening is that the political class which had controlled so much of the "process" is now coping with many new entrants into it, and democracy is about
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participation. it's not about sitting at home and watching other people participate. and we're still trying to make good on that promise, but we have a lot more tools for doing that now. >> hi. go ahead with your question. >> good afternoon. with the rise of the citizen journalism, how important is a degree in journalism in the future news market? >> heh heh heh! >> that was always a debate under the old school. no, really. our profession--no, students ask me that all the time, you know, d i say, epends on who's doing the job interview." >> do you have a degree in journalism yourself? >> i do. i do, a bachelor of science... >> see, i don't. >> from ohio university. but the truth be told, i chose ohio u. not just for the quality of the j-school, but they had a 5-day-a-week newspaper, the great "o.u. post," and from day one, i went over to volunteer to work for that student newspaper and all, so-- >> so what do you tell him? >> yeah. to thine own self be true. >> jay, you're a journalism professor. you want to put yourself out of business here? ha ha ha! >> well, it's always been the case that you didn't needo go
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toournalism scho to be journalist. there's a very good reason for that. if we created such a law, it would violate the first amendment. so i'm in favor of an open press where anyone can join it, but--and when i was chair of our department, we mandated that every undergraduate have a double major, so you can major in journalism, but you have to major in something else, which i thought was a good idea and i helped push it through. today, i think the reason to go to journalism school would be that in order to practice as a jourlistn the future, you're gonna have to understand this huge puzzle that we're all grappling with and this series is grappling with, which involves technology, business, politics, democracy, journalism, news, video, audio. it's a huge puzzle, and what journalism schools ought to be able to do is really equip people to grapple with the entire puzzle. here's what i really want to tell you. if we
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were able to still have the gates around the media system that we once had, it would be easyo say everyone should follow the rules. what we're trying to do is operate in a world where there are no gates, where anyone is allowed to have a blog, and under those conditions, which it's gonna be very hard to undo, we have to figure out how to make for a more trustable and reliable news system. >> so past is prologue. let's turn you now to the newseum archives and look back at a major milestone in citizen journalism not that long ago, actually. it was 9/11, 2001. journalist dan gillmor was out of the country at the time. he was desperate for news. overwhelming demand had crashed many mainstream news sites, but gillmor knew that lots of bloggers were out there, and that's where he went for his information. >> a guy in brooklyn, across the river from the world trade center, put on his blog, "now i know what a burning city smells like." and i thought, "wow. we
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used to say journalists write the first draft of history. i think this guy just did." and something changed. something for journalismas changing. >> that's a powerful and dramatic memory on a very difficult day. jay, was it a turning point? >> well, all these events where people are on scene and they have the tools to tell us what's going on and not only record it, but distribute their reports to anyone--9/11 was one, mumbai was one, the tsunami was one, the london train bombings was another one. >> the elections in iran. >> the elections in iran. all these events where people who are there are able to tell us are important. after all, the authority of a reporter, professional or citizen, starts
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when somebody is able to say, "i'm there. you're not. here's what happened." and that is a very powerful moment. >> it's a very powerful moment, clarence, but the journalist, citizen or professional, also gains power and credibility by finding things out--not just by being someplace, but by digging and by investigating. >> that's true. >> that's right. that's right, which is why i like to think investigative reporting will not be extinct, but funding it is a new challenge now because it's not cost effective. and i happen to be on the fund for investigative journalism. there's other non-profits around trying to find new ways to fund that, because, you know, to me, real reporting is still real digging and really checking out multiple sources, trying to get both sides of the story--all those old-fashioned virtues. >> final question to you both: what should the role of the citizen journalist be, let's say, 5 years from now? what shou it be >> wl, i--y're trying to put a plan and logic and rationality to this, frank--a
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very novel concept. i suspect--well, what it should be is more eyes, more ears, more voices out there, and a more sophisticated audience as well because the audience is gonna keep us all honest. >> jay, what should it be? >> well, i think we need to continue to work on community standards, we need reputation systems so we know who to trust, and we need amateur journalists working with professionals in pro-am hybrid forms to get the real potential out ofhese new tls. >> to the citizen-professional journalists, then, thank you both. we appreciate it very much. that's it for today's "future of news." join us next time from the knight studio at the newseum in washington d.c., where we are thinking what the role of the citizen can, should, and will be in journalism. i'm frank sesno. [applause]
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>> this program has been brought to you by a grant from the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide. for more information, visit...
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